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Published July 01, 2012, 09:01 AM

Report: ND Sheriff Created 'Sense of Doom'

DICKINSON - Sheriff Clarence Tuhy has not only created a “toxic” environment at the Stark County Sheriff’s Office, but he has left its employees literally sick, according to a workplace report filed Tuesday.

By: April Baumgarten , Forum Communications

DICKINSON - Sheriff Clarence Tuhy has not only created a “toxic” environment at the Stark County Sheriff’s Office, but he has left its employees literally sick, according to a workplace report filed Tuesday.

“I have never worked in a place where it made me physically ill just knowing I had to return to work and that there was a very real possibility that my path would cross with Clarence,” Former SCSO Deputy Ernie Shear said in the report, describing the “sense of doom” working at the office.

Stark County commissioners filed the report with Gov. Jack Dalrymple’s office in Bismarck through the Stark County state’s attorney, along with a request to unseat Tuhy from the elected position.

Shear told The Press on Friday he has not read the report, but Tuhy’s removal “is a long time coming.”

“It should have been done a long time ago, but I think everybody was too afraid to actually speak up and say something,” he said.

The commission retained Attorney Leslie Oliver of Vogel Law Firm in Bismarck to conduct the investigation.

“If the problems within the sheriff’s office are not addressed promptly, the safety and well-being of Stark County will be at great risk,” according to the report conclusion. “Despite the fact that the sheriff’s abusive conduct is not unlawful, it nonetheless may render him incompetent to serve as the chief law enforcement officer of Stark County.”

Oliver did not return multiple calls to The Press.

Tuhy is also under an investigation related to a burglary at the House of Manna in Dickinson.

Shear resigned Feb. 3, less than a year after he started. He added many employees have quit within a year’s time. He wrote two letters to the commission about issues at the SCSO.

“I also initially felt that Clarence was a genuinely nice man and seemed to be rather caring and concerned with the operations of his department,” he wrote. “We left because we could not continue to work for Clarence because he is a tyrant!!!”

SCSO staff repeated sayings from the sheriff like, “Here’s your gun, badge and keys. Don’t get me sued,” or “If you don’t like it, leave.” They also called him a bully. Tuhy said in the report he could be tough but described himself as fair.

Tuhy declined comment Friday. Michael Geierman, legal counsel for the North Dakota State Lodge Fraternal Order of Police in Bismarck and Tuhy, did not return calls to The Press on Friday.

Commission Chairman Ken Zander said the commission could not comment on the report, but it had to act when it saw the findings, he added.

“The report basically speaks for itself,” he said. “As county commissioners, we have a responsibility to protect employees and to create a safe, positive work environment as best as we can.”

Several SCSO employees said they experienced health problems, including one female that took retirement early because the job made her “emotionally unstable.” Other employees felt nauseous, developed ulcers and high blood pressure and had trouble sleeping and eating while working at the office, adding “You can only beat a dog for so long … the sheriff beats and beats and beats.”

The report also addressed safety issues. One deputy said he worked five months without a bulletproof vest, adding that one was given the day a Bismarck police officer was shot and killed.

Other employees cited lack of training and proper equipment. A deputy was training another deputy and responded to a burglary in process with the unarmed recruit, according to the report.

The report also mentions incomplete and outdated handbooks, adding the “use of force” policy had “tear gas” instead of mace.

The sheriff would also skip debriefings after incidents. The report mentions a shooting in Belfield during the primary elections in June 2010. Tuhy didn’t ask what happened but reported the latest poll results, adding “it looked like he was ahead in the polls,” according to the report.

The governor’s staff is reviewing the report and will make a final decision on the claim.